Everywhere in the industrial world it is taken for granted that the citizenry should have access to the best available medical care. Except in the United States.
Everywhere in the industrial world access to deadly weapons is strictly controlled. Except in the United States.
Everywhere in the industrial world all workers are guaranteed a wage that allows them to live in reasonable comfort, however modestly. Except in the United States.
Let us take these assertions one at a time. I begin with a personal experience. Some years back I was in Berlin on a writing job and was struck by a serious flu-like cold. The concierge at the hotel made a phone call, and an hour later I was in a doctor’s office. As she handed me the prescription she said apologetically, “I’m sorry, but as you’re not a citizen of the E.U. this medicine will cost you ten euros.” The last time I picked up a little prescription in my local pharmacy the bill was $160, even though I have a variety of medical plans, including Medicare. The New York Times put it succinctly in a recent story: “All other countries rely on a large degree of direct government intervention, negotiation, or price-cutting to achieve lower-priced treatment for all citizens.” And it added that in such countries, “Health care spending is often half of that in the United States.”
Why? According to Dr. David Blumenthal, former advisor to Obama, “A lot of the complexity of the Affordable Care Act arises from the political need in the U.S. to rely on the private market to provide health care access.” In other words, we could have better, cheaper health care in the United States if it were largely dispensed by the government as it is in England, France, Germany and a score of other nations. The Times goes on to say, “Even Medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug prices for tens of millions of beneficiaries, and Americans are forbidden by law to import medicines made domestically and sold more cheaply abroad. And so American patients are stuck with bills and treatment dilemmas that seem increasingly Kafkaesque.”
What is true of medicine is also true of firearms. In most industrial nations few people own guns, and those few are mainly hunters. I have spent a great deal of time abroad, especially in Europe, and have many friends there. I don’t believe that any of these people owns a gun or has any interest in owning one. In the United States gun ownership is taken for granted in a lot of places, especially in the Western states where boys and girls are taught how to handle guns from childhood. For these kids the feeling of a hunting rifle in the hand is as natural as the grip on a baseball. In the United States we cannot even pass laws limiting the right of the mentally ill to own guns. The Times said that recent debates have shown “just own powerless the law enforcement can be when it comes to keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.” One psychiatric patient in Connecticut who threatened to shoot his mother had his weapons confiscated by police. But state law says he can have his guns back in a few months. “I don’t think they should ever have been taken out of my house,” the patient said. “I plan to get all my guns and knives back in April.” As insane as it may seem, we cannot in the United States prevent the mentally ill from having all the deadly weapons they want. One result, of course, is that we have a far higher murder rate than in many other countries.
Why? Once again according to the Times, it is due to pressure from the well-funded gun lobby. “Gun rights advocates worry that seizure laws will ensnare law abiding citizens who pose no threat.” Meanwhile the threat to their fellow citizens is ignored.
Yet again, in most other industrial countries it is believed that all workers ought to be paid enough money to keep their families reasonably housed, fed, and clothed. Further, efforts are made to see that the distance from top to bottom is not disgracefully large. Most of these nations tax heavily those with higher incomes in an attempt to even out the distribution of wealth. In the United States all sort of loopholes are built into the system, especially via the capital gains tax, which allows the wealthy to escape high tax rates.
All of this is clear enough to anyone who thinks about it, and at the moment the Democrats are planning to make the minimum wage a major issue in the 2014 election campaign. They want to push the minimum wage to $l0.10 an hour. That doesn’t sound like very much, because it isn’t. For a forty hour week this works out to about $20,000 a year. From this must be deducted the Social Security tax and Federal, state, and local taxes, leaving the worker with at most around $15,000 a year. It is possible for a single person to squeeze by on that sort of income, but it will hardly provide for a family; and of course many worker aren’t employed forty hours a week or fifty-two weeks a year.
As a consequence most families in jobs paying the minimum wage need two bread-winners, which in most cases means that the children are left in the care of a granny or a day-care service, which somebody has to pay for. Not surprisingly, again according to the Times, “A study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that fast-food workers receive nearly $7 billion a year in public assistance.” In other words, the fast-food industry is being subsidized by American tax payers. It is not irrelevant to point out that lobbyists for the medical industry alone spend about a half billion dollars a year to see that the government addresses their concerns, which among other things means keeping the minimum wage as low as possible.
It is true that union workers in the United States are often well-paid. But only about 25% of American workers are unionized. In truth, a substantial percentage of American workers would be better-off—an in many cases far better off—living in Germany or Sweden.
Americans have been led to believe from childhood that the United States is the greatest country in the world—-the wealthiest, the most free, fairest, the happiest. None of this is true. As it presently stands, most of the other industrial nations offer better and cheaper medical care, a far more even distribution of wealth, far less poverty, and far fewer deaths from guns. The United States offers its citizens a lot of material blessings; lots of cars, good highways to drive them on them on, well-appointed houses, all sorts of toys for children. Yet, in less tangible goods we have fallen behind. We are, in fact, rapidly becoming a third world country, with inadequate medical care for too many, and large minorities denied a reasonable standard of living, while a small majority creams off a big share of the wealth.